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Steven Bayar

Lessons from the bakery

In this situation, there are no heroes. There may also be no victims.

The soap opera of the West Orange (NJ) Kosher Bake Shop continues. The owner claims being “targeted” unfairly. Lines have been drawn, and many are mourning the fact that we just can’t get along.

Not me.

Is refusing to accept a cake order to celebrate LGBTQ a matter of Jewish law? Of course not.

Orthodox educators have long been allowed to teach in non-Orthodox supplementary schools or as full time members of the faculty of non-Orthodox day schools, because they are allowed to earn a living (parnasa).

No one assumes that a traditional educator functioning as the principal or teacher in a liberal setting means they in any way condone a liberal Jewish lifestyle. Does anyone believe that the Orthodox owner of a bakery is a supporter of LGBTQ by making rainbow confections to order? It is a simple matter of “earning a living.”

Nor is this a legal matter. Whether you are sympathetic to the Supreme Court or not, his refusal to honor the orders is legal.

So, it becomes a matter of his personal ethics. He does not want to act in a way he feels is wrong. That is his right.

But it is also legal, and ethical, for those who feel disenfranchised by his actions to picket and protest. This, they are doing.

As a veteran of ethical stands you must be willing to face the consequences of your actions. Ethical stands tend to engender pushback.

Years ago I was one of five rabbis who took an ethical stance in refusing to pay a $50 fine for demonstrating in support of Soviet Jewry. We went to prison for this action. We understood the system. We broke the law and faced the consequences. In similar situations, I have endured censure and ostracism from the Jewish communities I have served.

I am not bitter over the pushback. Healthy communities must be flexible enough to allow for diverse conduct. Those who complain that we should all learn to put aside our differences and act “respectfully” towards each other miss the point. For a community to function it must be able to tolerate the differences — united when union is necessary but free to pursue agendas when not.

For anyone, especially the bakery owner or those in protest, to claim the mantle of “victimhood” is ludicrous, and betrays the halakhic principles we live by.

I am reminded of the joke about how many Zionists does it take to change a light bulb. Of the four required, one must proclaim the entire Jewish people stand behind this action and one must decry the action as bringing about the end of the Jewish people. But remember, all four are needed to change the bulb.

While I find the actions of the bakery owner reprehensible, I recognize he is within his rights to do so. But I am within my rights to call for a boycott and picket his place of business.

No heroes and no victims … just life in our diverse community.

About the Author
Rabbi Steven Bayar recently served as Interim Rabbi at Congregation Agudas Achim in San Antonio, TX. Ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, he is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn, NJ, where he served the pulpit for 30 years, and teaches at the Golda Och Academy in West Orange, NJ. He is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly and Rabbis Without Borders, and has trained as a hospice chaplain, a Wise Aging facilitator, and a trainer for safe and respectful Jewish work spaces. He’s the co-author of “Teens & Trust: Building Bridges in Jewish Education,” “Rachel & Misha,” and “You Shall Teach Them Diligently to Your Children: Transmitting Jewish Values from Generation to Generation.”
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